Films vs games. It’s a discussion that never seems to go away. Whether it is Hollywood’s feeble attempts to convert some of our greatest games into cinema or gaming’s wish to be like its more glamorous cousin. The two seem to be unable to leave each other alone. Which brings us nicely to Until Dawn, a teen slasher masquerading as a video game.
If you’ve ever watched a teen slasher, which I’m going to assume most people have, the set up to Until Dawn will come as no surprise to you. A year after the disappearance of two of their friends, a group of teens return to the mountain on which they disappeared. Because you know, people are stupid. There’s the jock, the sweet one, the bitch and all the other stereotypes that this genre has made its staple. Once up there, things quickly begin to go wrong and your decisions will impact how many of them make it out of there alive. It’s Telltale, but with real consequences.
It’s also Telltale with real acting and includes some of the best speech and facial rendering that I’ve ever seen in a video game. Acted by an extremely talented cast, at least a few of whom you will recognise, this is David Cage level stuff without Cage’s idiosyncrasies. It takes what is simply a bunch of tropes thrown into a cabin and elevates them above 90% of video games characters. They sound and feel alive. They’re also pretty much all massive dicks, at least at the start of the game. Seriously, you will struggle to like any of them and no one will judge you if you try to shuffle them off their mortal coil a little bit early.
Yet what’s great about the game is that those opinions change. One particular character, who I initially thought was a massive twat, actually became one of my favourites and sacrificed themselves to save others. While the one that I liked turned out to be of a coward, saving himself rather than helping someone else. It’s the simple character twists that movies tend to do so well, but games so often fail to grasp.
Which nicely leads to how you play this game. Because you are essentially the director, something which has covered by smarter people than me, and the choices you make can go several ways. As I mentioned you can try to kill these teens, taking the challenge of leaving them all dead on that mountain. Secondly, you can try to save them all, making sure they all get home safe. Or thirdly, you can play this like a movie. Making decisions based on narrative rather than emotion and creating your own twisted hell hole for these teens to survive.
It creates a game that you can replay, exploring every avenue and unlocking every secret. However, if you’re like me you won’t want to. You’ve told your story and it’s time to move on. Which actually leads to one of the games biggest flaws. The unholy amount of collectables contained within it. Collectables in themselves aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but in Until Dawn they cause problems. In such a narrative lead game, you don’t want the player to feel the need to be off exploring every little corner of it. It ruins the flow. It’s made even worse by the fact that you will miss parts of the story if you don’t hunt out clues to the mystery which surrounds you.
It’s a small hiccup though and sits alongside the games struggling frame rate, you are lucky if it is hitting thirty, as being things that I can put to one side with Until Dawn. Because this is a game made by people who love films of the genre and who have taken that world, subverted it and done something special with it. It’s one of the best new teen slashers I’ve seen in years and I would argue that it is not only worth a play for horror movie fans but may well be essential.